Do you ever feel like your professional goals are just, well, boring?
- Increase manufacturing efficiency by 35%… boring.
- Generate 25% increase in revenue from sales partner channels… boring.
- Implement internal auditing process… boring, boring, boring.
Okay, admittedly this title is clickbait. Of course, goals aren’t boring, or at least not all of them. But it is the first quarter of a new calendar year, and many of us professionals and people leaders are thinking about goals. So while we’re in the headspace, let’s try to make our goals as least boring as possible.
You may be in a position where your professional goals are challenging and novel, help you build skills, and keep you engaged. If that is the case, great! You are in the Goldilocks Zone of goals. You will learn a lot this year.
But for others, goals might feel more routine. If you’ve ever been assigned a goal and thought dreadfully, “I’ve done this before,” then this article is for you.
Are Boring Goals Bad?
It is okay to have boring goals. Some of the most important goals are also the most boring. Less acceptable is passively tooling on one boring goal after another. As the saying goes, you don’t control the wind but you do control the sails. Your experiences—professional or otherwise—are shaped by your outlook. As professionals and as people leaders, we must take ownership of our careers and find value in any situation.
So for the rest of this article, I’ll focus on how to take a boring goal and make it well, less boring.
Boring Goals And Goal-Setting Theory
One thing is very clear—having a goal, even a boring goal, is better than having no goals. There is ample research going back to the 1960s that specific, measurable goals at work are way better than expecting people to try their best. Of the five factors that goal-setting theory focuses on, two are particularly relevant when a goal is boring:
- Challenge: Needs to be just right. Too much challenge and the goal is actually demotivating (I can’t do this). Not enough challenges and we lack motivation.
- Commitment: Or, buy-in. Commitment helps to persevere to the finish. Commitment also ties to meaningfulness (my effort has a purpose).
The biggest problem with boring goals is they pull your effort down. Over a long period of time, this could impact the trajectory of your career. That is bad. Boring goals shouldn’t keep you from achieving your potential.
I was recently talking to two different friends who each expressed a similar malaise around boring goals. On the surface, their goals seemed interesting—connected to large, visible initiatives and involving complex challenges. Still, these goals largely reflected work they had done in the past. The projects were new, but the skills were unchanged. The walls were moved but it was the same maze.
To be clear—boring goals aren’t your manager’s problem to solve. Boring goals aren’t a sign of a bad company. Boring goals, according to goal-setting theory, are often good goals.
Therefore, the only person who can make goals less boring is you.
How To Make Goals Less Boring
Goals are made less boring through an ironically boring term—goal diversification. The idea is that if we can’t change our boring goals, we can adjust our approach. We can reallocate time and energy to focus more on what brings us joy.
There are three main ways to diversify your goals:
Learning Goals: Lack of challenge has a natural (but superficial) impact on learning. A more purposeful approach to learning can illuminate creative options for building new skills. Consider:
- What skills do I want to build? How can I use these to advance my boring goals?
- How can I shake up my day-to-day? What new experiences might provide a different approach?
- Do I have a mentor or coach? If yes, do I need a new one?
Learning has never been easier. Personally, I’m a big fan of LinkedIn Learning. Shaking up your routine could be as simple as networking or job shadowing. New mentors aren’t hard to find—it mostly requires the courage to ask.
Personal Goals: The pandemic was an opportunity to reflect on the finiteness of career and life. I’m encouraged that personal goals are becoming “equally weighted” against professional goals.
What makes a good personal goal? Well, that’s really up to you. There are an unlimited number of interesting personal goals. I recently saw a friend post that in 2022 they achieved their goal of spending 1,000 hours outside. That’s a cool goal.
Remember to focus on personal goals you’re genuinely committed to. If the impetus is external then you lose some of the benefits. A goal to read 50 books is great. But, if you only want to post about it on social media I would rethink the effort.
Service Goals: As in, service to others. I also like the term “giving back” goals. There are many benefits to focusing on others. In addition to making the world a better place, the act of shifting attention away from your own problems often leads to unintended solutions. In its most literal sense, helping others is in fact a way of helping yourself.
Service goals do not require large efforts. Many companies, professional groups, and alumni associations provide informal mentoring opportunities. As long as you’re prioritizing the needs of others over your own needs, you’re moving in the right direction.
So what does this all mean? What steps can you take to mitigate boring goals?
- Start by incorporating a learning goal. This is a great “antidote” to a mundane routine. Identify a new skill to build and use to accomplish the goal. Find new people to collaborate with and learn from.
- Balance your boring goal with a motivating personal goal. Boring goals are a lot less boring if they share a part of your life, rather than take up the majority.
- Find a way to give back. Purposefully step away from the challenge of resolving a boring goal and instead focus on the needs of others. Thanks for reading! Follow us on LinkedIn.